When I was little I’d wear tutus around the house and pretend I was a famous Prima Ballerina twirling in grace and splendor. I thought that maybe one day I would just wake up and I’d be graceful and splendid if I just wished hard enough. At some point I decided that perhaps I should take some classes. All I can remember is that I thought they were hard and painful and that I did not look or feel like a swan, so at the ripe young age of seven I quit.
Over the years I continued to play pretend ballerina though not quite as openly as I did in the past. Most people I know sing or dance in the shower or in the solitude of their room so in this way my behavior was unremarkable. But I still loved the thrill of dance, however awkwardly I looked. My untrained body kept a beat at best.
This New Year’s I wrote a bunch of resolutions, one was to take a dance class. I didn’t know what kind to pick since there are very few kinds that don’t completely awe me. I decided to look for something nearby and practical to cut down the possibilities. There was a ballet center just a few blocks away so I took the dive. Over the weeks leading up to my first class I obsessed over anything ballet. I watched an entire season of an Australian tv show called Dance Academy, I watched YouTube videos of famous dancers and I watched a couple of ballet documentaries. I created some intense hype for myself knowing of course that all I’d be doing was beginner’s steps; first position, second position, etc. Nothing terribly exciting.
And then came the day, and for the next few months ballet was like drinking sweet tea while trying to solve algebra equations. The classes were very basic to be sure, but it was hard, really hard to get your body to do things it’s not really supposed to do and you’d just hope that you were actually getting better from one week to the next.
Both my teachers had their own way of going about things. My Monday teacher was more free form and she let us do harder things more poorly and she didn’t use the French terms. My Wednesday teacher focused more on technique but in that way balanced out my Monday class very well.
My classmates were all lovely, nobody really cared if you looked stupid when you’re trying to coordinate your arms and legs. Which incidentally if you’d like to know I did look pretty dumb most of the times. We bonded over our ineptitude and work and sometimes we ran into each other outside of class.
Last week was the first time I got a real compliment from my teacher. Ready for it?
“You’ve gotten upper body strength”, Monday teacher said coyly as I sous-sused in fifth position.
That was it. Something had changed about my body that allowed me to so something I couldn’t do before, but now could. I was blissful. I was excited enough to keep going.
And then skipping along home I began to connect this whole experience to my spiritual life. Not because I’m just that holy, but because I often hear how diligence in both your prayer and exercise bring great results. Sometimes people forget to say that you build up to it and that it might take a long time before you see any changes in your life so you give up early and settle for a mediocre relationship with God and being out of shape.
In my head I broke down the steps that I took to hear that little compliment, “You can do something new you couldn’t do before!” I began first by making a firm resolution, then I found the most practical ways to concretely make my goal happen, I got seriously pumped for it and I always showed up. Having a class helped with my accountability and since I paid for it that was double the pull to go. Sometimes I didn’t want to go and I was not in the least excited but I was always happy to have gone, so in that way I’d put showing up the hardest but the most important part. It was great having two teachers, two ways of learning. It shook things up, kept things interested and kept my focus balanced between fun and technique; both are essential to a dancer. You need the spirit and the form to see something truly beautiful emerge. One without the other leads to either chaos or stiffness.
So to simplify what ballet has taught me about following through on a goal, spiritual or otherwise:
a) Name it.
b) Decide how you are practically going to live it out.
c) Find a way to keep accountable. You’ll know what you need by assessing your strengths and weakness. Do you get things done better alone or with others?
d) Get pumped. Take in media about people who’ve run the race and were excited about it. (Spiritually speaking a great time to get to know the Bible better and the lives of the Saints)
e) Show up. Planning was just the beginning.
f) Listen to your needs of your heart as you go so you can change up the way you do things if need be and find ways to keep yourself inspired. Ask yourself if there are any aspects of your goal that you are overemphasizing or underemphasizing.
g) Make sure you’re relating to others who are going for the same thing in a healthy and positive way. Encouraging peers is wonderful for everyone. Envy just seeps into the whole thing and really only ends up hurting you. Self-assesment and prayer is a must whenever you are doings something you love and care about.
h) Don’t look for results, they will come, focus on enjoying the journey. In the spiritual life, don’t try to do God’s job, your job is to be receptive to His Grace. Rejoice when it is given, humbly accept dryness when it comes.
I, as always have a hard time spending a long time in pray or scriptural study. My attention span is very low in this area, but if I’ve learned to spend an hour on the ballet barre I know I am capable of sitting down with the Lord more often and with better focus. I can’t just wish and dream about one day waking up and being in love with prayer and spending time in silence with the Lord, who deserves all I can give. He has shown me that diligence really does achieve good and great things even if it takes time to build and time to see it. So in this way I am heartened and thankful for being given the opportunity to learn Ballet.
Fabiola Garza draws and writes @ Catholic Colors . She likes sunshine, ballet and good company.